The parents’ balance of power

Married 1950; dad died in 2000, mom in 2011

March 12, 1950: Bride Trudy between Les (left, behind her) and Gert (to the right, dark hat)

My parents were married seventy years ago today. I think about them, individually and collectively, a lot. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned that, when I was growing up in Binghamton, I felt bad for my mom. She was often left out of the balance of power, as far as I could tell.

Mom was squeezed between her mother, who owned the house we lived in and resided a half a mile away, and her husband, who had an outsized personality. As I noted eight years ago, my mother telling secrets to her kids was the great equalizer. They were stories about my dad that he had presumably told her in confidence.

At the time, I was thrilled to get the insights. He was born out of wedlock? The guy I knew as my grandfather wasn’t his biological grandfather? Dad hated Christmas because a drunk relative toppled the Christmas tree when he was seven? That explained a lot.

It was only after he died in 2000 that I fully recognized my discomfort with the setup. My sisters and I couldn’t ACT on the information. We couldn’t ask him about so much because we knew things that he didn’t know we knew.

How would we be able to explain knowing what knew without ratting out our mother? And what would have been the repercussions on her?

There were two times when I saw her with the upper hand in the relationship. One was when my father moved to Charlotte, NC and she took her sweet time following him down. My mom’s aunt Charlotte, for one, was not a fan of my father and actively campaigned for her to stay in upstate New York. Eventually, though, she, and my baby sister, and eventually my maternal grandmother all moved down to North Carolina.

The belated 1996 Christmas

The other time she had the balance of power was so out of the blue. In January 1997, my sisters, their daughters and I were all down in Charlotte. My father was brooding all day, doing what my sisters and I called the “black cloud,” a sulking so intense that it almost felt that he literally sucked the air out of the room.

Finally, that evening, Dad explained that he thought the daughters of my sisters were being disrespectful and not too big to spank. Leslie, ever the diplomat, expressed her appreciation for his sharing, but kindly disagreed. I followed her lead.

Then my mother launched into a tirade – or as much of one as she could muster. It was about how he had taken out a lot of money, five figures, from their joint bank account without her knowledge. Money that he spent for items for his various businesses.

I should note that he was notoriously bad at record keeping. He probably could have written off some losses if he could be disciplined enough to submit receipts to their beleaguered bookkeeper, Cecil.

In any case, mom’s complaint about the money was valid. Those losses affected her for years after he died in August 2000. Yet, in that moment, I felt badly for dad, who had been expressing his feelings but totally shut down after that. Perhaps that was why he was so secretive about the evolution of the prostate cancer that killed him. That was HIS power.

And yet it was obvious that, after all of that, they still loved each other. He worked hard to arrange a surprise party for her on their 50th, and last anniversary in 2000. And by arrange, that included doing the bulk of the decorations. Presumably, he was in some physical discomfort.

Long-standing relationships can be complicated, I suppose.

Les Green, born Leslie H. Walker

new amended birth certificate

Les Green.Savannah GA.1998My new discovery is that I now have evidence that my father was born Leslie H. Walker in Binghamton, NY. I had been misled that it might have been Wesley Walker, based on the listing in the 1930 Census.

After failing to find a birth certificate in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where I thought he might have been born, I read some genealogical clues. One suggested the New York State Archives, in the same building as the state library in Albany.

I discovered a set of microfiche. It lists every birth in New York State – excluding NYC – by year, and alphabetically within the annual listing. For 1926, “Walker, Leslie H., Bing, 26 Sept.” I have to think it was no accident that Agatha named him similar to Raymond C. Cone’s elder daughter Lessie.

Now I could apply for his real birth certificate. The birth certificate I’d seen since 1974, dated from 1944, listed McKinley Green as Leslie Green’s father. I now know it may have been the “real” birth certificate. Or a legal fiction. Thanks to Melanie for the following:

According to this: “As a portion of the estimated 6 million adoptees, our New York adoptees have two ‘official’ birth certificates. The original one, which truthfully states the information about their physical birth, including their original names, their natural parents’ names, the hospital, doctor, date, time and weight, becomes forever sealed under a court of law when their adoption is finalized.”

Birth certificate #2

“At that point, the new adoptive parents are issued a new amended birth certificate which might or might not state the real birth information such as date, time, hospital and weight, and replaces the natural parents names with the adoptive parents names ‘as if’ the child was born to them. The name of the child is also reborn and all identity from the point of finalization on is replaced.”

Ha! So the registrar didn’t screw up. McKinley and Agatha didn’t lie. And this suggests heavily that McKinley Green actually adopted Leslie H. Walker by 1944, though my father’s surname shows up as Green as early as the 1940 Census.

Since November 2019, obtaining Original (Pre-Adoption) Birth Certificates are now available for adoptees from New York State. “Direct Line Descendants” are also eligible to access it. “A Direct Line Descendant is a child, grandchild, or great grandchild, etc. of the adoptee.” I qualify.

I’ve applied directly to the City of Binghamton office of Vital Statistics. New York State’s queue for old birth, marriage and death certificates is about 15 months.

Agatha Green, and McKinley and Les

5 Gaines Street

Agatha GreenThe result of my great reveal is has been quite heartening. People are impressed, as they ought to be, about the moxie of my late grandmother, Agatha Green, nee Walker, as well as their affection for my dad, Les Green.

I realize that I hadn’t remarked much about her in this blog. Well, except here. That’s because she died when I was nine, in 1964. While I remember her fondly, as I noted, I have only two broad memories. One is that she was my Sunday school teacher. The other is that she taught me how to play canasta on her kitchen table.

My parents and I lived on the second floor of 5 Gaines Street in Binghamton. But at some point in the early 1950s – probably by the time my sister Leslie was born – we moved to the first floor. McKinley and Agatha moved upstairs.

As I’ve mentioned, I fell down the hallway stairs from the second floor to the first when I was about three, in 1956. No doubt I was visiting one or both of my grandparents. As a result, a have a tiny knot under my lower lip where facial hair refuses to grow. It’s not some sort of “soul patch” affectation.

Pop

Now McKinley I’ve written about several times, going back to the earliest months of this blog, and also here and here and here.

So this new information requires a balancing act. Discovering my biological grandfather doesn’t mean my sisters and I abandon our affection for Mac. At the same time, I know my father must have suffered, not just from Raymond Cone, but the off-again, on-again relationship between Mac and Agatha.

They were married in 1931, living together in 1932, but by 1936, they weren’t. In 1940, Agatha and Les lived with her parents, while McKinley was in a boarding house, and this was still true in 1943. Yet on the faux birth certificate that my father obtained from Binghamton, NY, McKinley was listed as Les’ father. (But Mac was a poor liar; he listed how old he was in 1944, not in 1926 when Les was born.) Mac and Agatha Green are together again by 1946.

Several people have asked me what I’m feeling. That’s why I write, to try to figure these things out. I’m still working on it. I appreciate the outpouring off support in my journey. Well, it’s OUR journey, really, Leslie’s and Marcia’s and mine, attempting to sort out the myths from the truth of our lineage.

Les Green was a “rare folk singer”

I figured Ed Link and Les Green met at one of Link’s business locations by the airport or maybe elsewhere, or through Link’s involvement with his charitable foundation

Les Green is rare folk singerI will always remember a visit c. 1985 I made to Charlotte, NC, where my late dad Les Green lived since 1974. I was SHOCKED to discover that he talked about me to his colleagues about how smart I was, how I would look up things I didn’t know. He talked about me? He LIKED my intellectual curiosity? I had always thought that it had annoyed him.

It was an intellectual curiosity that led me to this photo. You may recall this post from February, featuring a photo of my late mother, my sister Marcia and me standing in the driveway of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY. It was almost certainly taken by my dad.

I posted the photo on one Facebook group, trying to identify the building in the background. It is a red brick factory that never had particularly identifiable signage that my sisters and I could recall. I since learned that early in the 20th century, it was the home of Star Electric. In 1918 it became Barnes-Smith Co. cigar manufacturers. After being the Bonnie Silk Mill in the 1920s and ’30s, it was one of the first plants of Link Aviation.

WHAT? My father often spoke of his admiration of and affection for Ed Link, who was “a pioneer in aviation, underwater archaeology, and submersibles. He is best known for inventing the flight simulator, commercialized in 1929.”

I figured they met at one of his locations by the airport or maybe elsewhere, or through Link’s involvement with the charitable foundation he and his wife started. Could they have met on the street where I lived?

In the comments, a woman named Kathi, who had attended the same church I did, posted “this awesome pic that was in the Binghamton Press of your dad, me, and my cousin Butch.” My father cropped this specific photo and used it in fliers promoting his singing gigs in the area for a number of years.

My curiosity about the factory across the street led to the source of the graphic for the Les Green one-man PR machine. Dad would have been 93 tomorrow.

Arranging flowers: a Les Green specialty

Les Green used to arrange flowers at a store on the South Side of Binghamton called Costa’s

Les Green.Carol PowellHere is my father with my bride Carol in March 2000. This is Les Green in his element, arranging flowers and the accouterments thereof.

He used to arrange flowers at a store on the South Side of Binghamton called Costa’s. He worked out of there when his regular job was slow, but even when he was working full time. He was VERY good working with his hands, a gift he did NOT pass down to his son.

For several years, he arranged flowers and did decorations for something called the Debutante’s Ball in my hometown, which was geared towards the black community. Often, my sister Leslie and I would accompany him. Now Leslie had an eye for this work, but I was there primarily to schlep stuff. I was a pretty good schlepper.

He also worked on at least two weddings of my mother’s cousins in New York City in the 1960s. I gather he was doing similar things when he moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974.

He decorated the assembly hall at my then-church in Albany in May 1999 for Carol’s and my wedding, showing great energy and resolve. It wasn’t until the end of the reception that she shared with my shocked new mother-in-law that he had prostate cancer. Or more correctly that he was “living with” the disease.

When I referred to Carol as my bride in the above picture, I wasn’t kidding. We’d been married less than 10 months at the time. This was dad arranging his church in Charlotte for a surprise celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Carol and Leslie and Marcia helped; I’m sure I moved some items.

But what was evident to Leslie and Carol and me for sure was that he was moving just a little bit slower than he did 10 months earlier. He needed a couple more breaks. About five months after this picture was taken, my father would be gone.

Two types of photos look like Les Green in my mind’s eye: him with his guitar, and him arranging flowers. Even 19 years after he passed, he’s still a very real presence.